Uttlesford’s GP surgeries are joining forces to form a private company – a move doctors hope will ward off competition for services from brands such as Tesco and Virgin Care.

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Health bosses have dismissed the suggestion it is privatisation of the NHS through the back door and insist the limited company – Uttlesford Health Ltd – will be non-profit making.

But fears have been expressed about the impact it could have on the way healthcare is provided.

The change comes in response to the growing trend of private sector companies, such as Virgin Care, ­looking to get in on the provision of ‘enhanced or wider’ frontline NHS services. These are separate to those offered under the core contract GP surgeries have with NHS England.

Dr Alice Hodkinson, a GP at Borough Lane Surgery, is leading the project, which involves all 10 ­surgeries in the area. It was made public at an Uttlesford Residents’ Health Forum meeting last week.

Although patients will not see a difference in the short-term, the move is the first step towards ­bringing certain services, like those offered at Addenbrooke’s or Princess Alexandra hospitals, closer to the community.

Dr Hodkinson took questions, including those from the chairman of Uttlesford’s Health & Wellbeing Board, Professor Peter Fentem.

He told the Reporter: “To say we were surprised is an ­under-statement. It was hinted that some services, like those associated with diabetes and phlebotomy, might get hived off were this move not made.

“GPs provide them at the moment which, naturally, they want to continue, and presumably they feel that if they’re in a federation they can make sure they still get paid for doing so. It means they don’t lose control of anything to private providers.”

Prof Fentem added: “But who’s to say that three or four years down the line, if the federation is successful, Virgin won’t look to take it over?”

Two years ago, Virgin Care agreed a £500million deal to provide ­community health services in two areas of Surrey. It sparked concerns about privatisation of the NHS.

The services included seven Surrey community hospitals, community nursing and dentistry, health visiting and physiotherapy, diabetes treatment and renal care.

A spokesman from the West Essex Clinical Commissioning Group – the main body Uttlesford Health Ltd is likely to submit bids to in order to win service provider contracts – compared the proposed model to that of the Suffolk GP Federation.

Made up of 40 independent GP practices, the not-for-profit ­federation allows practices to work together to improve patient services, bid for contracts and share best practice.

Uttlesford Health Ltd was due to be formed today (Thursday).

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